Archive for March, 2013

Turkey, where dissidents are “terrorists”

Wednesday, March 6th, 2013

This article appeared today in Solidarity.

When George W. Bush proclaimed his “War on Terror” more than a decade ago, there was some concern in the USA and its allies that the war might not be confined to fighting actual terrorists overseas and could also be directed against ordinary dissenters at home. For that reason, civil liberties groups were particularly concerned about any “anti-terror” legislation that could be seen as curtailing human rights.

The good news is that the democratic rights we had pre-2001 are largely intact in countries like the USA and the UK. The intelligence services no doubt have larger budgets and electronic spying on all of us has probably increased, but the fears of an all-powerful “national security state” emerging have thankfully not been realized.

It’s not as if armed riot police would storm Unison’s headquarters on the Euston Road, arresting hundreds of activists, accusing Dave Prentiss of “terrorism” because he’d spoken out against some government policy.

But that’s precisely what’s happening today in Turkey, one of the junior partners in the US-led “war on terror”.

Two weeks ago, police stormed the Ankara headquarters of KESK, the public sector union, arresting over 100 activists. Over 160 arrest warrants were issued. Fifty were arrested in Istanbul. The teachers union Egitim Sen was also subjected to a wave of arrests.

The leaders of KESK and Egitim Sen were accused of involvement with terrorism.

The arrests were, it was claimed, part of an investigation into a suicide bomber’s attack on the US embassy in Ankara at the end of January in which one guard (and the bomber) were killed.

We have to admit that Turkey does in fact suffer from a lot of political violence – on all sides. Kurdish fighters of the PKK, far-leftists angry at the USA and Israel, and others have from time to time engaged in horrific violence. So has the Turkish state.

It’s not like the Turkish government is making up the idea of “terrorism”.

The problem is that it appears to be using a genuine security situation to justify attacks on organisations that it doesn’t like for other reasons, such as unions of teachers and other public sector workers.

This is, of course, reminiscent of the McCarthy era in the USA when the genuine threat of Stalinist domination of Europe was used to justify a crackdown on any form of dissent.

In Turkey, the organization the government is blaming for the US embassy bombing is known as the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front, or DHKP/C. The DHKP/C is listed by the US State Department as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO).

But KESK is not. And Egitim Sen is not. And it’s an important distinction.

Amnesty International says it “has long campaigned against the abuse of Turkey’s overly broad and vague anti-terrorism laws to prosecute legitimate peaceful activities.”

Note that Amnesty isn’t saying Turkey shouldn’t combat terrorism. It’s saying that the laws are overly broad and vague. And they’re being abused by the state to persecute legitimate dissenters, like the unions.

Unions around the world have rallied to the defence of KESK and Egitim Sen.

The Brussels-based International Trade Union Confederation, representing 175 million organised workers, was the first to issue a strong statement. They were followed by the global union federations for public sector and education workers, Public Services International and the Education International. All three groups have teamed up to launch an appeal on LabourStart which has been signed – so far – by over 8,000 trade unionists.

The LabourStart campaign is here:

Please sign up and spread the word.

How are union members using the Internet?

Monday, March 4th, 2013

This article appears in Stronger Unions, a news and comment blog about the UK trade union movement, managed by the TUC.

Unions that want to communicate with their members using the new technologies face a problem. And the problem is that we don’t actually know very much about how our members use the Internet.

Of course there are general surveys and studies which show that masses of people use Facebook and Twitter, that smartphones and tablets have come to replace desktop PCs as a way to access the Net – but is that the case for union members?

After all, union members in the UK and elsewhere are not typical – we tend to be older than the average, for example.

The only way to know how our members use the Net is to ask them, and this year for the third year running, LabourStart is doing exactly that.

In last year’s survey, we learned that a very large of number of trade unionists had started to use Google+ and LinkedIn, in addition to Facebook. And yet unions were not really responding to this, and had done little or nothing on those social networks.

Nearly 42% of the nearly 3,000 respondents last year told us that they accessed the Net with a smartphone and a third that number were already using tablets (like the iPad). But less than 6% thought their unions had apps for these devices.

We learned that nearly two-thirds of the respondents rated their national union websites as ‘good’ or ‘excellent’, but that number dropped dramatically when we asked about local or branch websites.

These numbers and many more like them can be very useful for unions in Britain and around the world. We should, for example, invest more in training local and branch unions to do better and more useful websites. We should learn which social networks our members use (such as LinkedIn) and exploit the possibilities there, rather than solely relying on Facebook. We should be designing apps for smartphones and tablets which are increasingly becoming the primary way our members access the Net.

This year’s survey will run through 18th March – and the more members of trade unions participate, the more useful it will be for all of us. We don’t just want those who love new technology to respond – it’s also important to know how ordinary members of our unions use the Net.

Please spread the word in your union – you can take the survey online here.